Tackling the ‘Reality’ of Virtual Reality

Split between the reality and the virtual
Credit: virtualworldsland.com

VR is an experiential medium. The first thing people express in their first VR experience is surprise at how ‘real’ it seems. Once you don the Head Mounted Display (HMD) and headphones, you really do experience another reality.

There are a number of factors that contribute to this. Chief for me is scale. Like the TARDIS in Dr Who, it is bigger on the inside. Staring into the eye of a Blue Whale,

or on a plank balanced out the window of an apartment 50 floors up, is simply something you cannot experience as viscerally looking at a screen.

And we haven’t even begun yet.

Right now two factors constrain the ‘reality’ part of Virtual Reality:

Resolution

The first is the resolution of the display. This itself is a function of the display technology, the processor, and power. If you’re using standard display techniques, pixel density becomes a real problem. As you add more pixels to a display, you exponentially increase processor performance requirements, in turn needing more power.

This is why the two leading VR headset manufacturers (Oculus and HTC) still tether their HMD’s to a powerful computer.

Fidelity

The second challenge to neuropsychological quality VR is the actual fidelity of the artefacts. No matter how good the rendering, we all can discern the difference between an animated character and a ‘real’ person. Within VR this effect is amplified.

Dilemma

This presents us with a dilemma: Create a discernibly unreal computer animated avatar that can respond appropriately to us as a being within VR. Or capture realistic video of people we can watch but not interact with.

Right now various producers are using both approaches powerfully. Spectating a Syrian Refugee camp through VR video is as powerful as experiencing dementia through VR animation.

Producers can create enough videos to cater for a simply decision tree, somewhat like an IVR call system. But this is clunky, unwieldy and easy to game. Equally the game engines of modern First Person Shooters and simulators are remarkably sophisticated, but the graphics are still not real enough.

It’s the melding of the two that will truly change VR. The inability to discern the authenticity of people within the simulation, combined with the ability to interact.

One thing that is certain, however, is how powerful this new medium is, and that it will change everything.

Watch this space.

Maslow And The Key To Being A Futurist

Thinking Like A Futurist

I’ve always thought like a futurist. Which leads me to make some pretty bold assertions about technology, and its impending impact in our lives. Much of this stems from a career in technology, across 4 continents and 3 decades. Foreseeing the impact of the Internet when you led inititatives like automatic, remote, backup services before the web in the ’90’s, or the impact of Cloud, after building one of the world’s first Application Services Provider in 2000, becomes automatic.

But there are plenty of technology initiatives, many of which have failed to take precedence, like 3D TV’s and WAP. Others that succeeded beyond anyone’s imagination, like SMS texting.

How Did Texting Go Viral?

Remember when you had to learn a new language because you only had 160 characters and a numberpad to send a text. When you could only text people on the same phone network, in the same country. And then when you had to pay more to send across networks.

How is it that financially strapped young people could suddenly afford inordinate amounts to buy a mobile phone, and deal with this cumbersome technology?

Maslow

Here’s one of the keys I use to evaluate nascent technology. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Particularly the need for self-expression, connection.

I first learned the power of this when I was in the Air Force. We would be back from an exercise, exhausted and starving, in the meal queue, when mail arrived. To a man, anyone would leave sacrifice their place in line to get a letter from home.

Information and Communication Technology

This primal need drove language, writing, the printing press, the telegraph, and broadcast media like the radio and TV. It is the key to the rise of Mobile Phones (despite unwieldy SMS), to the Internet, to Smartphones, to YouTube, to Social Media. This is what drives Wearable Tech, IoT, Augmented and Virtual Reality.

3D  adds no connection over and above television, whereas SMS enables people to connect in a way unprecedented in history.

If you want to determine whether a technology will take off, pay heed to Maslow.

5 Key Steps To Success With IoT

Image of a ball of light generated by data
The Promise and Possibility of Systems of Foresight. Credit: Forbes

Are you considering the Internet of Things? Do you subscribe to the promise of 26B (Gartner) to 50B (Cisco) devices connected to the Internet by 2020? Have you thought about the Optimisation of Assets, the Differentiation of your Services, or the way you can Engage with Customers using IoT?

Despite the current hype, well over 99% of devices are still not connected to the Internet. Organisations are yet to reap any material return on IoT investments to date. Very much like Cloud computing was 6 or so years ago.

Working with customers as a Chief Technologist in HPE, and in my role on IoTAA with partners and competitors in the industry, I observe 5 clear principles that predicate success with IoT:

1. Robust and Transparent Partnerships

Unlike Cloud, Mobile, Analytics, or Social technologies there is no one vendor in the marketplace that provides everything from ‘Devices to Insight.’ So it is key to have strong partnership governance, and understand how technologies from different vendors integrate.

This is important not only for the vendors, but also on the buy side of the equation. IoT solutions transcend single buyers, and in some cases, vertical industries.

Consider a smart building, the architects, builders, developers, utilities, councils, and consumers all have a stake in the solution. Data needs to be protected, yet is the primary asset for sharing.

Getting a complete, transparent partnership model in place for all vendor and purchasor stakeholders is a strong predictor of success.

2. Agile Delivery Model

The scale of a typical IoT solution is too great, interdependencies too complex, and outcomes simply unknown for legacy delivery models to work.

Companies that begin small, then iterate rapidly in an agile manner, achieve quick wins that are critical to ongoing sponsorship. By the time you have gathered all of the requirements for a smart lighting project, the technology and business landscape will have changed.

Importantly, the Agile Delivery Model is key throughout the organisation, procurement, governance, security, recruitment etc. Not just for the IT development teams.

Indeed the funding model for a city or nationwide implementation is often derived from savings gained in the iterative nature of implementation.

3. Strong Analytics and Data Management

An outcome from any IoT deployment is unprecedented deluges of data. Companies that can scale data capacity accordingly, with defined tools and processes to analyse the data, lead the way with IoT implementations.

Typically these organisations have well run Cloud architectures, and the steps in place to transform to a Data Driven enterprise.

A hospital that can’t analyse current patient records, or co-ordinate a Discharge Summary, is in no place to cope with the tsunami of data that connecting every medical device within the hospital produces.

4. Mature Asset Management

One of the consequences of the ‘Post-PC’ era, the consumerisation of computing is a proliferation of assets throughout the enterprise. BYOD further complicates this with various ownership models: Corporate owned and controlled, corporate partly owned, individually owned and corporate secured, etc.

Organisations that don’t have a handle on the HW and SW assets connecting to and operating within their enterprise can not begin to appreciate the complexity of managing an IoT Asset Lifecycle.

5. Robust IT Security

The emergent nature of value and risk in an IoT implementation brings an evolving set of IT security challenges. From cars vulnerable to hacks over the air, to Nuclear Power Stations attacked by state based organisations. Even the meta-data, i.e. Data about a device that can be used to infer other information. E.g. Your garage door opening and closing correlated with Social Media information inferring whether you’re at home or not.

Organisations that have performing IT security functions, that evolve with the business and technology advances over time, are most likely to progress with successful IoT implementations.

Clear Roadmap to Success

The promise of IoT is great, but there are clear indicators of success evidenced in the maturity of organisations wishing to adopt these solutions.

There is also a race condition, where start-ups, unencumbered by legacy architectures can implement solutions quicker than enterprises can restructure. The best thing organisations can do to maintain competitiveness and benefit from the opportunities of IoT, is to appoint an executive tasked with leading the IoT function; continue with Digital Transformation to achieve maturity in the areas above; and begin with small scale PoC’s and Pilot implementations.

If you are considering IoT and would like to discuss this further, run an education session, or envision a strategy, please contact me.

The Case For The Virtual Reality Helmet

There’s no question that Virtual Reality is going to change the way we do everything. 2016 is touted as a pivotal year, with at least 3 large companies delivering affordable devices.

There are a couple of tweaks needed to make this mainstream, however. Firstly we need a way to untether the interface (Head Mounted Display, or HMD) from the computer. Or increase the compute power of an untethered HMD, currently a smartphone. Wireless has to be the way to go here, but there’s an immediate and obvious challenge…

…Power. Any untethered HMD needs power to run the display, which in turn means it needs a battery.

VR Helmet

My solution for this, and another HMD problem: Front-heavy, uncomfortable displays, is a light-weight helmet.

Consider the motorcycle helmet. Mine is a mere 1.3 kgs, with a plush comfort liner. You can easily wear this for hours, and many motorcyclists and race drivers do. (10 – 12 is my max so far) Helmets already comprise years of research for comfort and wearability.

Shell

For a VR helmet you could lighten the shell with ventilation, as you don’t need crash protection.

Power

The helmet allows you to place a battery on the rear, enabling far better balancing options.

Display Visor

You could design the display into the visor, so someone could literally flip it up and transition back to the real world. I imagine this to use technology similar to the Avegant Glyph, that reflects a projected image, rather than having a display mounted in front of the eyes.

Furthermore a helmet prevents one of the biggest distractions to immersion in VR, light leakage. Once you close the visor, you’ll be in the experience without any extraneous light.

The visor itself would provide a far great FoV increasing peripheral vision and the sense of immersion.

Sound

For maximum immersion you can embed decent, noise cancelling speakers in a helmet. E.g. My bike helmet already has integrated speakers. In a VR helmet you could even install surround sound speakers to enhance the experience.

Branding

Finally, consider the branding opportunities. From StarWars to Halo, there are helmet designs that aficionados will pay premium prices for.

Who wants to co-design this with me?